Only eight minutes were played before the accident for the world champion. And that wasn’t the shot from Australia’s Greg Goodwinn, who shot the ball under the crossbar of the French goal to make it 1-0. The accident had happened three seconds before, when Lucas Hernández suddenly fell to the ground in a running duel with Mathew Leckie and was holding his knee, his eyes distorted in pain. Leckie crossed, Goodwinn took aim, goal for Australia.
A few people in Munich must have looked spontaneously as if they had bitten into a lemon: The injury susceptibility of the 80 million euro FC Bayern defender Hernández is notorious anyway, the knee is his weak point, and now everything looked like another serious one injury off. Hernández was taken off the pitch and replaced by his brother Theo from AC Milan.
The residue, on the other hand, could be healed. Adrien Rabiot (Juventus, 27th minute) headed in after an inadequately saved corner and Olivier Giroud (AC Milan, 32nd) footed after a fine pass from Rabiot. In the end, the French won their World Cup opener at the Al-Janoub Stadium in the port city of al-Wakrah 4-1 (2-1).
As Jacques Chirac said: “The shit always flies in squadrons.”
And yet, the misfortune of the early minutes is likely to have an impact on an eleven whose sick leave the daily newspaper The world even before the game, he was reminded of a motto by former President Jacques Chirac: “Les emmerdes, ça vole toujours en escadrille.” Literally translated: the shit always flies in the squadron. Or to put it more bluntly: misfortune rarely comes alone.
N’Golo Kanté, Paul Pogba, Presnel Kimpembe, Christopher Nkunku and second goalkeeper Mike Maignan had all been injured before the trip to Qatar. Then Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid striker and winner of this year’s Ballon d’Or, signed off. Defender Raphael Varane has recently returned to training with the team after recovering from injury; he sat down on the bench for the time being. So Deschamps formed a defensive line with three Bayern pros: Benjamin Pavard on the right, Dayot Upamecano in the middle (next to former Leipzig player Ibrahima Konaté) – and Lucas Hernández on the left, for eight minutes. Now the staffing has become even thinner.
It may also be due to this history that Deschamps called off the French Revolution at short notice. Four years ago in Russia, the national coach was accused of having led the eleven with the most spectacular football skills on the planet to the World Cup title with “anti-football”, i.e. with a kind of walls-plus-Mbappé strategy. But now he wanted to develop the team further, towards a more offensive style – an example of this was a three-man defense with two full-backs moved up on the wings.
Up front, each of the four different attackers likes to let the others shine
But after just three wins in eight internationals in 2022, Deschamps returned to his world-famous pragmatism at the start of the World Cup, to the 4-2-4 system, in harmony with the players. This is “the best way to get as far as possible,” Lucas Hernández agreed, “recently we haven’t been very solid defensively. This system suits us well, we were world champions with it in 2018.”
After the Australians’ resistance was broken, the French brought stability and some spectacle back onto the pitch. Because up front, that was perhaps the most important finding, each of the four different attackers likes to let the others shine. Kylian Mbappé flew at TGV pace into a lob from Antoine Griezmann and slammed the ball just over the bar (45′). Giroud conjured an artistic overhead kick into the penalty area, almost the goal of the tournament, but just wide (50th). Griezmann pulled the ball on goal after a spectacular one-two Theo/Mbappé – repelled. Then Ousmane Dembélé headed the little Mbappé (68′), and finally Mbappé again: Spectacular attack on the left, sensitive cross, header Giroud, 4: 1 (71′).
Is that enough to become world champion again? That also depends on what else flies in the squadron through the French quarters in the next three and a half weeks.